Fright Night (3D) ****

Craig Gillespie’s last and probably only memorable film to date was the touchingly quirky Lars and the Real Girl in 2007, starring Ryan Gosling as a delusional guy who has a relationship with a life-like doll. This showed the makings of a great director of twisted unconventionality in the heart of suburbia – kind of like his latest project, the remake of 1985 cult classic, Fright Night, only in 3D.

Anton Yelchin reprises William Ragsdale’s troubled soul of a character, Charley Brewster, who learns that his new next-door neighbour, Jerry, is a vampire (played by Colin Farrell). But no one, not even alleged ‘vampire slayer’ Peter Vincent (David Tennant) will believe him. He tries in vain to keep the ones he loves, mum Jane (Toni Collette) and girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots), away from Jerry’s alluring charms.

Gillespie has produced a worthy comedy horror remake with thrilling bite that nicely balances the comedy with the frights, and actually uses the 3D in the moments that matter. Purely to engage latter-day audiences, he has brought Fright Night into Noughties’ Las Vegas suburbia with its sparse, box-like housing that’s a freak show in itself, but is familiar ‘hunting’ ground for the paranormal from many previous horrors.

There is a blood-sucking overload happening at present, from TV to the big screen, but whereas the Twilight saga takes itself too seriously, this is more like a comical version of True Blood, sexy and provocative but tongue firmly placed in cheek. For the ladies, there’s brooding Farrell as Jerry in full testosterone gear, hunting females like sport in a way we like to think the real Farrell behaves. Chris Sarandon as Jerry was far more debonair in the original whereas Farrell is a Hells Angel ‘bad boy’, complete with bike. For the guys, this genre film does lack a certain ‘femme fatale sexuality’ that is synonymous with vamp horrors and the sex connotations of penetration with the drawing of blood. Even Vincent’s attractive female groupies do little to stir the flames, almost a parody of the wanton hussies found normally cavorting in the vampire’s lair.

Fright Night 3D demonstrates how a stellar cast can make a dramatic and engaging difference to any offering in the vampire genre. In addition to Farrell and Collette who gives a great supporting performance, it’s ‘Charlie Bartlett the vamp slayer’, with Yelchin once again providing his unique brand of understated boy-next-door charisma and affecting vulnerability in another coming-of-age role. Yelchin is a worthy Ragsdale successor, keeping us onboard the fang fight, where less accomplished, younger talent may have caused Gillespie’s efforts to falter, but not forgetting to keep his character, Charley, interesting on many levels.

Tennant brings a touch of Russell Brand to Roddy McDowall’s memorable portrayal of Peter Vincent the showman that it’s hard not to think Brand is in fact on the screen. Tennant plays madmen with aplomb anyhow, and fans will delight at his camp, leather-clad appearance in this.

Gillespie’s Fright Night retains the cool but spooky factor of the first film, with a couple of 3D effects thrown in – or at you, mainly droplets of blood. It may well reignite the cult classic following of the first for a new generation as it provides a fang full of fun.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Art Of Getting By **

If coming-of-age, indie-styled films of late will have us believe, every white, privileged school kid is a volatile mass of unresolved angst and superior intellect, waiting to explode on an uncaring, uncompromising world around them. Debut feature writer-director Gavin Wiesen has joined the ‘cool kids’ gang of film-makers, championing the secretly chic and misunderstood nerds with his new drama, The Art Of Getting By, starring a grown-up (and seriously malnourished-looking) Freddie Highmore of The Spiderwick Chronicles and Finding Neverland fame.

As George Zinavoy, Highmore is a lonely and fatalistic NYC teen who’s (somehow) managed to make it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work. He finally befriends another being on the school rooftop called Sally (Emma Roberts), a popular but complicated girl who recognises in him a kindred spirit.

This highly sensitive and (over) emotionally complex take on ‘kidulthood’ uncertainties mixes darker moments with tender ones, and reveals Highmore’s blossoming talent into manhood and adult roles. The unfortunate thing for both actor and Wiesen is this side of the adolescent movie market has been well and truly staked by the likes of Michael Cera, Anton Yelchin and Jesse Eisenberg, and is full to bursting with their troubled personas on screen. That’s not to say Highmore cannot join their acclaimed ranks as he performs his best with what he has to play with here, but the inexperienced and rather pretentious and predictable script from Wiesen doesn’t help matters.

Giving us musical prompts, such as cranking up the tinkling ‘upbeat’ soundtrack to signify George’s decision to join the real world, is not a satisfactory explanation as to why this over-analytical teen, who almost could be deemed as having a case of Asperger’s syndrome, has decided to join the rank and file of everyday ‘normality’. If it’s just to get the girl (Sally) – turning this into a romantic offering, it seems the intellectual George is selling himself short for no apparent reason. Yes, love makes you do the craziest of things, and through Sally, George finally gets his entry into carefree adolescent existence. But if we are to believe that his character is more than your average teen, the transformation is executed in an incoherent manner, undermining what’s special about ‘Teflon slacker’ George and his outlook.

Communication is the key – if you are talking the same language. Even though Roberts as Sally sees her kindred spirit in George, being someone locked into performing as she is expected to in life, it still feels a little farfetched that this hip chick would have oddball George round to party on Manhattan’s rooftops with her ultra cool friends, let alone grow to fancy him. Again, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and spotting his artistic talent might be cause enough to get Sally hooked – and she does make it back from the airport departure gate in record time to see his final art piece, like something from an episode of Friends. Admittedly, Roberts plays the part of ‘awkward teen in a vixen’s body’ rather well to rival Highmore’s rather unsettling appearance, but hardly gives a defining performance in her career to date. It’s as though Wiesen has restrained some of Sally’s true character traits and feelings in this to focus on the turbulent universe that centres on George, which is a shame for both character arcs.

Wiesen almost attempts to boldly address teen depression at the start of The Art Of Getting By, which could have been a more intriguing premise. He then changes tempo to a film focused on young puppy love and making the right life choices that it feels so uneven at times without a stronger, passionate vein of, say, unfrequented longing, that it goes to confuse both characters and audience in the process, all disguised in quirky, prattle-heavy tension. The good thing is Highmore and Roberts will not necessarily be affected by their turns in this, even though the latter has had her acting wings clipped by her seemingly undeveloped role here, pointing to more exciting talent from them to come.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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EIFF: A Spanking In Paradise ****

If the title doesn’t get you first, the promise of ‘a comedy set in a brothel’ ought to. Think ‘Scottish Four Lions’ for deadpan underdog calamities, and you get the idea. Writer-director Wayne Thallon’s 2011 Edinburgh Film Festival closer, A Spanking In Paradise, is a spankin’, swind screamer of pure shant lunacy, right from the grubby black heart of Edinburgh’s underworld.

Naïve, young lawyer Justin (Andrew Hawley) has one month to wait for his US visa, and decides to spend it visiting long-lost family in Edinburgh. His charismatic Uncle Rab (Simon Weir) is a hard-nosed brothel owner who loves his Mum, but has a rep to protect, and sets about having his nephew working on the reception and doing thankless errands. Justin soon finds that the job is more purgatory than paradise, as he comes in contact with a whole number of dubious characters – but can he keep out of trouble in the meantime?

The opener plays out like a scene from a play, where we witness Justin getting his (rather ridiculous) US Embassy grilling, in order to on reflect the sweet irony of the promises made at a later stage in the story. But it’s Weir as storytelling Rab who dominates the screen of misfits, a tonic of profanity as a Mummy’s Boy gangsta. Rab is nasty and nice, a Jekyll and Hyde character who plays by his own set of rules in a closed-doors society to get the job done.

Weir is utterly engaging, whether as Rab, he’s ranting or charming the hind legs of a donkey, an anti-patriarch that all the other characters look to and react to when on screen. But it’s also events completely out of his hands, like the famous curry scene, that provide the biggest laugh-out-loud moments. As in Four Lions, everything each character does is done with absolute conviction, but the uncontrolled results are not only cause for sheer side-splitting delight for the audience, but further emphasise the complete farce and disjointed logic that some of the characters live by.

This is a contemporary ‘comedy of errors’ laced with poignant and troubling scenes that bring a sobering element of realism to what you are watching, and without the happy resolution for all. Far from make light of the world of prostitution, Thallon mocks those in charge of it, hence we can laugh heartedly at Rab’s misguided antics, through the innocent experiences of Justin’s time with the crew. The reality check comes with the addition of sadistic character Leo – sinisterly and convincingly played by Leo Horsfield – who has his own heavy-handed ways of managing the talent (the girls), and is more of the kind of seedy caricature we’d expect.

This is also a class-crossing piece of comedy genius from Thallon, particularly considering the class-conscious echelons of Edinburgh society, including ‘corrupted counsel’ in the whipping chamber. It seems every walk of life comes under scrutiny, good and bad from each end of the spectrum, registering with a wide range of potential viewers. Ironically, with recent rioting events, amicable-looking Hawley as Justin demonstrates the power of peer pressure, even though he knows right from wrong and tries to get a grip on events.

Thallon’s A Spanking In Paradise is a dark gem of perverse hilarity driven by some strong characters like Weir as Rab that give the story its unique stubborn and foolhardy life and soul.

4/5 stars

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Final Destination 5 (3D) ****

The thought of another dance with Death – and in 3D – fills anyone tiring of the accident-obsessed franchise with dread. But Steven Quale’s addition to the grizzly iconic series, Final Destination 5 (3D), should not be dismissed so easily, and begins with a glass-smashing, gore-dripping, pole-flying 3D title extravaganza that makes you sit up and dodge the obstacles in a thrilling opening ride and grand taster of things to come.

In this instalment, attractive twentysomethings and work colleagues survive a suspension-bridge collapse on their way to a team-building retreat, thanks to Sam’s (Nicholas D’Agosto) premonition. Naturally, federal agents are keen to know how he knew it was going to happen and tail him for the rest of the film – as does The Candyman’s Tony Todd as the creepy coroner, gleefully waiting for his next pickup. The ‘unlucky’ few soon learn that there’s no way you can cheat Death, although you can try to work out its plan.

This film has all the same ingredients as the last ones – cringe-worthy acting, good-looking but dopey victims and spot-the-obvious death-trap setups. However, what Quale’s film has is uncompromising gore to rival and far exceed that of the second film. In fact, the gruesome experience is further enhanced by the 3D that’s definitely worth paying extra to see, with some of the most fun effects ever seen that purely enhance the thrills and bloody spills, rather than detract from them. Coupled with a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously up to a point and plays up to the clichés, these effects make for an absolute scream with more ways to obliterate a human being than you can imagine.

In addition to the enhanced 3D deaths that are a truly mind-blowing, major squelch-and-crunch fest of bodily matter – and apart from the beautifully directed and choreographed bridge scene, the best by far is at a gym, the film does have a rather delicious dark side to it. The majority of the characters never stray far from what’s expected of them, and there’ll be no awards for acting as they all lined up to take the fall – with a couple of red herrings slipped in to delay the fun. But one character in particular addresses the remote possibility of survival by turning the previous film’s idea of birth being their salvation on its head, and looking at the opposite extreme. This makes for a nice little thriller twist.

Final Destination 5 sweetly ties into the first in the franchise in a delightful, concluding fashion, which some might work out earlier on from the pointers, plus there’s a powerhouse montage of previous film mishaps for fans of the series to revel in. All in all, make your date with death for this finale as it offers the perfect ‘gutsy’ night out.

 

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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In A Better World ****

In the film’s production notes, Danish director Susanne Bier of this year’s Oscar and Golden Globe-winning foreign-language film, In A Better World, has some stark words, which with the current unrest in the UK, bring even more poignancy to her new theatrical release: “Are we immune to chaos, or obliviously teetering on the verge of disorder?”

The story begins by following Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a doctor who commutes between his home in an idyllic Danish town, and his work at an African refugee camp, surrounded by imminent danger. In these two very different worlds, he and his family are faced with conflicts and difficult choices between choosing revenge and forgiveness, especially after his bullied 10-year-old son, Elias (Markus Rygaard), befriends a grieving new boy, Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen), who involves Elias in a dangerous act of revenge with potentially tragic consequences.

Bier’s film is a disquieting but powerfully observant analogy between chaos and calm, the former of which threatens even the most idyllic and civilised existence at any given moment. Her cast delivers one of her finest relationship spectacles, across generations, with Persbrandt’s usual understated brilliance adding the much-needed, calming voice of reason, but also the element of free will. However, it’s the wonderfully memorable debut performance from charismatic young star William Jøhnk Nielsen as Christian, the confused and damaged friend who longs to be understood, but chooses to lash out first, that stays with you. Nielsen is chilling constrained and highly accomplished for such a new actor (when this was made), and it’s clear why Bier cast him in such a pivotal part.

The soothing pace is punctuating by moments of disarray, defused usually by Anton who chooses words over irrational actions. In his aim to create a better, healthier part of the world in Africa, he drops the ball back home, and it’s this lack of control and order that scares him – and the viewer – by highlighting the thin line between civilised society and anarchy. In fact, Anton is far from perfect, and there is a shocking scene set to test his own will power that shows he was a lot more to learn about human nature.

Bier’s study of human actions and reactions to these disruptions, through the eyes of the two families, is what builds the film’s complex layers of emotions, pain and ultimately empathy. However repulsed we might feel at the reactions that warrant the revenge response and seen clearly black and white, Bier then throws the proverbial spanner into the works to make us to see things from a different viewpoint, other than the one we first start with. This keeps the relationship story fresh and compelling.

Coupled with heavy choices are the inevitable questions of life and death that are always at the forefront of this tale, and add the edge to proceedings in both parts of the world. Anton is the transient key to both, having to remain strong when he feels wholly inadequate and ill prepared. Ultimately, it is his journey – as the film visually portrays.

Bier excels in this humanist field, coaxing and combining both subtle and theatrical performances from her actors that place her at the top of her game. In A Better World is no exception, adding to her fine list of film accomplishments. This is definitely one award winner worth watching, and its message ironically comes at a time of social uncertainties for many UK cinemagoers.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Cowboys & Aliens **

Bond teams up with Indie for the first in its kind: a sci-fi western – and it’s a great concept, full of untapped imagination. The 1999 action comedy adventure Wild, Wild West brought inventions into the western sphere, but this goes that step further. Add some aliens to kick the proverbial butt out of, and you’ve got a recipe for big-screen (thankfully, non-3D) success. Perhaps, as Cowboys & Aliens is like comic actor-turned-director Jon Favreau’s ‘crazy wet dream’ in movieland terms, dreamt up on a wild lads’ night out on the tiles. However, it is in fact based on a 2006 Platinum Studios graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.

When a spaceship arrives in Arizona in 1873 to take over the Earth, outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) and local businessman Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) don’t take too kindly to the aliens making off with their townsfolk. They decide to show the unwanted extraterrestrial visitors a thing or two about manners and how they resolve issues the Wild West way.

The film opens with great promise and intrigue, with Craig as Jake waking up in the desert in a dazed state, sporting a futuristic metal ‘bangle’. But it’s soon apparent that Craig who does his best John Wayne impression throughout has decided to take himself way too seriously for such a fantastical storyline. Whether this is intentional is hard to tell, like a parody of western heroes like Wayne, but the writers try (and fail) to make things lighter, giving him the odd throwaway comment to inject some humour into his performance. Sadly, with all the best deadpan intentions in the world, Craig and comedy just don’t mix.

However, the biggest disappointment is a monetary ‘growling exchange of words’ between Jake and Woodrow over said bangle’s origins – even if both naturally grow to respect each other – rather than the anticipated standoff that would have delighted fans of both actors far more. Their initial dislike is woefully short-lived and could have been played up more to heighten any bickering chemistry they have.

Harrison has gone from grouchy male lead to older, grouchier male lead in this, and as was evident in his last Indie film, takes the action sequences easy, as not to put a body part out of place. There is a nice nod to the hit adventure franchise at the end that involves both Jake’s and Woodrow’s hats, but the latter actor spends most of the time glaring and muttering to match Craig’s intense, icy-blue staring and monosyllabic retort. Meaningful dialogue is few and far between.

The plot has so many holes and unexplained phenomena that it’s hard to know where to begin. Most obvious is the lack of information as to why the aliens are mining the region’s gold in the first place, and why they have the captive humans in a trace to do it? Surely they could just set up spacecraft camp in the desert – as they do, and carry on without needing to upset the locals? And just when you think things will be made a little clearer by real-life, alien-looking actress Olivia Wilde as the mysterious, otherworldly Ella, you’re still left with exactly the same questions of why is this happening at all, and who the hell is Ella, and what’s her purpose for being there – if only to keep constantly reminding Jake to search in himself for answers. Trouble is, we don’t get to hear them.

Even the alien species is a letdown, merely replicas of other iconic alien films, and rather two-dimensional. Apart from missing people, there is little empathy built up for either man or extraterrestrial beast when the end battle commences because we’re missing an important backstory, or any real sense of purpose for the visitors’ presence on earth, so the whole thing leaves you feeling rather indifferent. And as Michael Bay has learnt with his Transformers, there needs to be more to the impressive metallic gadgetry of these beings to hold the interest. There may be an explosive, rubble- and arrow-filled ending – the likes of which feels slightly nauseating as cowboys and Indians bond in harmony to pander to American patriotism and pride, but the action fizzles and sparks and leaves the earth’s atmosphere in the same mysterious way as the aliens arrive.

Either excitable Favreau was too impatient to get to his dreamlike finale, or a lot of the film ended up on the cutting room floor, but there is not enough clarification for a lot of what happens in Cowboys & Aliens, even to simply enjoy the (frustrating) ride, just whimsical imagery of what could have happen, had aliens landed in the 19th Century.

2/5 stars

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Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes ****

This year has seen its fair share of fantasy blockbusters, each with their own ‘must-see’ reasons. But none quite have the sentimental and chilling impact of director Rupert Wyatt’s interpretation of Pierre Boulle’s 1963 sci-fi fantasy novel, La planete des singes, and how it all came about that apes rule the earth.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes addresses how the apes took over, but has been given surprisingly believable concept. Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is hired by a wealthy corporation to test performance- (mind) boosting drugs on primates, in order to find a possible ‘cure’ for Alzheimer’s. It’s a personal goal as Rodman’s father Charles (John Lithgow) is in the advanced stages of the disease. When things go wrong, Rodman makes a home for Caesar (voiced by Andy Serkis of Gollum fame), the ape who is at the forefront of the experiments, and his home life soon revolves around his new primate family member. Sadly, as Caesar gets older and his natural protective and aggressive instincts kick in, Rodman is forced to home him in a secure animal unit, where he is abused by ape and humans alike, like sadistic keeper Dodge, played by Harry Potter’s Tom Felton. But Caesar is smarter than the average primate and soon rises in the ranks and leads a revolution that challenges Man’s dominance.

The worry that the CGI reconstruction would over-power any empathy we might feel for the character of Caesar is soon erased. As Wyatt takes his time to evolve his lead ape, rather than skip to the action-filled primate mutiny as quickly as possible, we get a fully realised and well-executed prequel to the evolutionary time disaster that is Planet of the Apes. All the characters’ arcs allow the central personality, Caesar, to engage the viewer as a living, breathing, thinking being in himself, coupled with impressive effects that bring Serkis’s facial expressions to life.

Casting Franco as Rodman ultimately gives credence to the role, as the actor uncompromisingly delivers Rodman’s personal issues with what he has done. Freida Pinto makes an appearance, adding the glamour as Rodman’s girlfriend Caroline, but is fairly unremarkable if that.

Two supporting performances bring up Serkis and Franco’s helm. Lithgow injects a lot of spirit to Charles, with some charming scenes opposite Caesar, who like a child, struggles to understand what’s going on with the human relationships around him. There is also a commendable post-Potter appearance from ‘Dracoy Malfoy’, Felton, who carries on his evil streak into his first noticeable adult role as Caesar’s tormentor, bringing an exciting premise to what’s to come from this fine young actor.

And the ape-human confrontation that takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge is certainly worth the wait. It’s a well-timed, rather than frenetic head-to-head, where Wyatt still makes sure the primate empathy is retained, especially with his moving final farewell from Caesar to Rodman – like the child flying the nest.

If you can’t catch the real-life Project Nim backstory into animal experimentation, Wyatt’s interpretation is almost homage to it, filling in the troubling issues with Man’s egotistical fixation for reprogramming nature. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is also a fine blockbuster that makes you wait for the action, and probably one of the best of 2011.

4/5 stars

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Project Nim ****

Director James Marsh of the fascinating 2008 film, Man On Wire, this time gives us jolt of clarity into our ‘playing God’ actions, one filled initially with both hope then despair that ultimately makes you ashamed to be human. Unfortunately for Project Nim, it has the sci-fi action adventure, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, to go head-to-head with this week at the box office. But this documentary film ought to be seen before the latter for full effect of man’s meddling with nature. Nim will give audiences some perspective of what has actually happened in history; in exploring the nature verses nurture theory.

Project Nim tells the story of a chimpanzee called Nim Chimpsky who was taken from his captive mother at birth in the 1970s and raised like a human child by a New York family (the LaFarges) then scientists, including project leader Herbert (‘Herb’) S. Terrace, in order to determine whether nurture affected nature and his ape-like tendencies. Sadly for Nim, aged 5, his natural instincts were to jeopardize the whole project and his own future existence.

Taking a mixture of on-camera interviews with all those involved in the project, grainy real-life footage and reconstructed scenarios, Marsh makes sure his ‘anti-hero’ primate Nim is fully empathised with from the start. He has his off moments with his handlers, but because of his unnatural controlled environment, these are soon forgiven. The rest is an uncomfortable, finger-pointing reveal of all the humans involved in the landmark project as to who is to blame for Nim’s shocking end neglect. It could be argued how different it might have been, had the LaFarge family been allowed to keep him the whole time, with Stephanie LaFarge having breast-fed and bonded with him from a baby. Marsh merely lets the comments from his interviewees drive the next episode of the story, but there are hints as to his own opinions.

Indeed, you do feel some sympathy for some of his ‘teachers/signers’ who were successful in speaking to him via signing, but had to watch their hard work being undone. The interesting thing is was this through Nim’s evolving nature or the intense nurturing lessons in small white-cell-like rooms that were to lead to tragic events. Was this whole experiment even compromised from the start? The very nature of the beast is Nim’s aggressive instincts of challenging the dominant male in a group broke through around the aged of 5, putting lives at risk.

Teacher Bob is the human saviour of the hour, a passionate ape lover and vocal critic, eventually blocked from seeing Nim when he ends up in a privately run animal sanctuary. However, like Bob, you feel a real sense of having let Nim down, especially when he begins pacing his cage with a haunted look in his eye. The real tragedy is even more apparent when Nim finally gets the primate company he so deserves then dies shortly after from a heart attack. It tugs at the heartstrings and taps into our inner animal-loving tendencies.

Marsh has deliberately made an uncompromising and unsettling account of Nim’s story to challenge us on our thoughts on animal experimentation, ultimately. In our quest to always ‘humanise’ primates in a cute, circus-style fashion, a life was at stake. On the other hand, without such pioneering science, how does the study progress? It’s a tricky predicament that will have you taking sides, never sitting on the fence.

4/5 stars

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Beautiful Lies ****

After the hit 2006 comedy Priceless, writer/director Pierre Salvadori joins forces again with internationally acclaimed actress Audrey Tautou for another situational romantic comedy, Beautiful Lies (De vrais mensonges), looking at how misinterpretation and unfrequented love can bring a bittersweet but charming dose of humour.

Tautou plays 30-year-old Emilie, owner of a hairdressing salon who employs Jean (Sami Bouajila), a handyman who is secretly in love with her. Emilie has problems of her own; apart from her own cynical view of love and relationships, she wants to cheer up her mother, Maddy (Nathalie Baye), who still pines for her four-year-absent husband who lives with another younger woman. Emilie receives a passionate love letter one day, signed by an anonymous author (who is actually Jean), and terrified at seeing her mother fall deeper and deeper into despair, decides to concoct a crazy plan: she’ll change the name at the top of the letter and send it to Maddy to boost her confidence. Sadly, her good intentions but ill-thought-out plan backfires dramatically, causing more harm than good.

The concept behind Salvadori’s lively, funny and well-meaning comedy of errors of a letter that acts as a catalyst for drawing out everybody’s real intentions is classic Gallic cinema, full of quirky characters, consuming passion and deceit. Even though classed as a romantic comedy, it goes hand in hand with a much darker, uglier side that explores the consequences of one’s own vanity and pride, including Maddy’s personal triumph that manages to throw up an unexpected surprise.

Unlike Hollywood rom-coms, the reactions, rather than the actions of those caught up in Emilie’s web of lies provide the greatest laughs and deepest meaning to events. Salvadori film-making is not about intentionally producing laughs, but creating a natural humour that occurs from irony and total farce – in effect, nothing feels strained and false, even though a lot of his characters remain larger than life, almost theatrical in nature. In addition, all of his is characters all lack self-confidence, which exposes them to further confusion, misinterpretation and random acts of insanity. This makes them instantly obtainable through their obvious flaws and obsessions, and more redeeming when the truth is revealed.

Tautou who’s bubbly, head-strong character Emilie is nearly identical to her 2001 role of Amelie – played out in a similar shop environment – is the obvious choice for the role. Her angelic, pouting looks hide a scheming personality in all her portrayals, and even though she’s a little trendier and feistier than normal and hits the vodka bottle, she still looks innocent like butter wouldn’t melt, further endearing her to fans of both sexes.

But it’s Tautou’s pairing with Baye that provides the stage for most intriguing dynamics, as each character learns new sides – good and bad – to each other’s personalities. But Baye is the true comedic genius here, never rendering Maddy as totally pathetic, but providing viable credibility to her madness. However, Salvadori still cannot avoid some ‘mature woman’ mockery, even with an unexpected twist in the tail end, and even though he claims that he was exploring the realm of “someone loving and betraying another in the same breath”, based on Maddy’s actions towards her daughter, the ending still seems a little farfetched and daft, almost a letdown for such a strong character who we want to see a happy ending for.

Bouajila as Jean is the perfect, swooningly handsome but reserved romantic lead, biding his time, like a true Shakespearian hero, struggling to come to terms with his unfrequented love for Emilie, while being forced to deal with rejection, humiliation and deception, but with dignity and patience. Salvadori intentionally shows good and bad sides to each character, and even though Jean is initially portrayed as the victim, not all his actions are wholly without fault. It’s the altering goal posts that make continually make this deliciously entertaining and far from stereotypical and predictable in nature.

Beautiful Lies, like its namesake, explores the enticing but paradoxical outcome of telling good and bad fibs, and the poignant consequences on all its players, resulting in bringing the humour to the fore. Coupled with an exotic Mediterranean setting, Salvadori’s small pocket of volatile life, like in any soap opera, is intoxicating to watch and voyeuristic in nature – we watch events as does Emilie’s perplexed salon staff. The fascination is in the expressions, and like all good situational-driven French comedies, fully developed characters are inherent to heightening the pleasure and the absurdity – something that Salvadori is a master at.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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